Cha$e: When Videogames Come To Life

By John Walker on November 20th, 2008 at 1:15 am.

See what they did there?!

The SciFi Channel in the US has started a brand new television programme, billing itself as “world’s first live-action videogame.” Forgetting, oh, so many shows that contradict this (I’ll leave that to you below, but let’s just say Knightmare here to get things started), the result is something so special that all who are able should watch. Please people, be outstanding for the majesty of Cha$e.

Let me explain the concept.

Ten contestants, known as Runners, have to stay uncaptured for 60 minutes in a large “game map”, then be the first to find the hidden exit gate. In episode one this was a dockyards, in an area about four street blocks squared (including a ferry crossing). These Runners, seemingly chosen for their inability to run, are pursued by an ever-increasing number of Hunters. These are men/women-in-black who walk around the streets of the location, searching for the Runners. We know they’re searching because each time we see from the camera mounted on their black shades, we see a rotating circle from a 1980s robot movie on screen, and the word “SEARCHING” flashing on and off.

A fearsome collection of Runners.

It’s essentially a multiplayer game made “real”. There’s even aspects of co-op necessary for success, but is, in the end, a Free For All. Fragile allegiances are required to complete certain puzzles (in the first episode this involved rearranging a large pyramid of metal barrels to create a picture, and thus unlocking the Deflector).

Right, yes, okay, the Deflector. This is where it starts to get really good. The Runners are equipped with special items that they unlock as they play. The first is the Deflector – lump of plastic that when pointed at an approaching Hunter emits a special effect added on later, and causes the pursuer to immediately stop chasing and walk away in the opposite direction. Now, in a videogame, maybe. It’d be silly, but maybe they’re robots and my Deflector can temporarily override their programming. But these are people! Real life people, obeying playground rules. “I fired my Deflector at you! You totally have to run that way now!”

What it would look like if this were really a game.

The Deflector, happily, is the most sensible of items in the game. Next revealed, as the Runners were warned their backpacks were to start emitting a screeching alarm in five minutes, were the Invisibility Glasses. (I’m so happy I’m not making this up.) By slotting their backpacks into another contestant’s, they were able to remove them, deactivating the alarm, and retrieving the ludicrous giant shades. When put on they turn the Runner invisible for two minutes.

Oh, it’s just so funny. The Hunter is charging toward them, and then suddenly has to veer off in the feigned pretence that they’re no longer there. A suited, shade-wearing hard man, jogging straight past the huffing, puffing Runner with giant orange glasses on their face. And then there’s the Sonic Stunner! A freeze-gun that makes the Hunter stand still for a bit. Oh, sweet joy.

The straight-faced team of over-dressed Hunters.

All these things would work fine in a videogame. You can create a mythology that supports them. I don’t know, the glasses could actually make you invisible. Rather than be stood there, in plain site, while a ludicrously overdressed man plays that he can’t see you, waving his head around in confusion.

Messages are delivered to the Runners throughout, via their iPhone-alikes. I’m not sure in what form the messages really appear, but we’re asked to believe it’s the world’s greatest quality video-phone. A conceit that would be slightly more convincing if the video didn’t overlap the edge of the device. Obviously TV requires all screens be added in after to remove strobing, etc (and indeed monitors in trap-rooms are, equally unconvincingly), but really. They could have at least confined the image to the object’s limits.

So close!

But all the above is fiction, and to a certain extent you can excuse it. If you embrace the rules and take part – hell, that’s why playground games worked. But where Cha$e (hurts to type) really collapses into giggles and nonsense is when the contestants hide.

The programme follows familiar tropes of competitive reality TV. Clearly borrowing lots from The Amazing Race, bits from Survivor, and an awful lot from Channel 4′s 1996 show Wanted (but presumably they weren’t aware they were) and a fair amount from NBC’s 2006 summer show, Treasure Hunters, it knows how to slickly introduce you to all the contestants in situ, etc. The concept is overwrought, and explained using graphics that would embarrass the ’70s, but it never gets convoluted. But unlike all those other shows, it makes no attempt to hide the camera crew. So as a Runner hides behind a large bin, there’s no question at all for the Hunter where they might be because of the camera guy with the giant camera on his shoulder, standing right next to her. It’s constantly hilarious.

They're robots!

There’s no question about watching this. You have to. If you’re in the US with access to SciFi, to miss out would be a waste of owning a TV. It’s on Tuesdays, 10/9c on SciFi (currently full episodes aren’t available full episodes are available on their website for US readers – thanks Pace). There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of the show getting near the schedules for the UK SciFi channel, but the inevitable protests will address this. Honestly, it’s corny as hell, but it’s just so much fun.

The lesson here is: videogames are videogames for a reason. Real life is real life because it isn’t a videogame. (Take that, philosophy!) But trying to confuse the two can result in some spectacularly silly jumbles. It’s worth it for the peculiar fear the Runners produce when pursued. They seem to forget they’re competing for $25,000 and start to fear for their lives. Which just makes their being caught all the funnier: they’re tapped on the shoulder.

__________________

« | »

, , .

47 Comments »

  1. hydra9 says:

    It sounds fantastic, and looks at least 10 years out of date from those shots.

    Actually, though, I think adults should be encouraged to re-play some of the games we enjoyed as kids. Really: Wouldn’t it be great fun to play ‘Manhunt’ and ‘Block 1-2-3′ again? I’m sure groups of adults do. Unfortunately, the last time my friends and I tried it (one night, in a local park), it took about 20 minutes before a cop car turned up due to reports of strange men and women hiding in bushes. Adults can’t get away with much, it seems, unless it’s on TV and everyone can laugh at them.

  2. maerd says:

    lol @ the video overlapping phone’s edge.

  3. Pace says:

    Actually there is one full episode on the site: The Botanical Gardens 1.0. Maybe you have to be in the US to get it? I normally detest reality TV, but maybe I’ll give it a go.

  4. kurige says:

    Very good point about the cameras. Didn’t notice that. It’s a silly silly show.

    If they used a Truman Show – esque setup with millions of hidden camera’s everywhere, the runners were actually professional parkour runners like they are in the trailers (stupid false advertising…) and the hunters were actually imported Israeli military patrol bots equipped with crowd control rubber bullet machine guns… Now, there’s a show I would look forward to watching every week.

  5. Colin Hansen says:

    Watching…. this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

  6. Roy says:

    “Wouldn’t it be great fun to play ‘Manhunt”

    I used to play Manhunt as kid, too! Frolicking through alleys to avoid detection, laughing with my buddies, choking someone with a plastic-bag, taking a shard of glass to a guy’s face…

    Memories.

  7. The Archetype says:

    There were several shows on Nickelodeo in the earl nineties that probably beat them to this title, like Legend of the Hidden Temple (which was even shot so that the obstacle course looked a lot like a 2-d sidescrolling platformer). I could be wrong though, since I’m not sure what would make something a video game instead of just a game show.

  8. John Walker says:

    Roy is King of the Thread.

  9. Saflo says:

    There was also Nick Arcade, where they had to beat a level of a video game and then act one out.

    Or something.

  10. Pags says:

    Roy grew up in Newcastle?

  11. Greyface says:

    1) I hate you for making me watch this. I want that 40 minutes of my life back.

    2) I hate you for making me watch this. However, the sobbing gasps from the women being chased were quite hilarious. Quite.

    3) I hate you for making me watch this, but nowhere near as much as I hate the woman who won.

  12. Martin says:

    Must see TV!

  13. Deadpan says:

    This is freaking hilarious.
    Even funnier is, on the main site, they announce a special ECW guest hunter!

  14. no says:

    This show was painfully stupid and horribly edited. The idea has potential but the execution is entirely retarded. Score another show for mouth-breathers.

  15. Psychopomp says:

    “No” needs a fucking sense of humor.

    This show was painfully stupid and horribly edited.

    EXACTLY.

  16. skizelo says:

    Reminds me of the latest Screenwipe, which had a segment on Paul Ross’ Big Black Book of Horror. Basically, really cheap television is always just a context-shift away from hilarity. Left in context, I find them subtly depressing.

  17. Hermit says:

    @ Roy

    This just in from the Daily Mail: Manhunt so evil it breaks the laws of time and space to influence our poor misguided youths.

  18. Dinger says:

    Wouldn’t the original American Gladiators qualify as the first live-action video game? Or maybe one of those Pac Man spinoffs they did back in the day?

    Hunting humans can make for good television, but until cha$e leaves the US, we’ll have to be content with the glory of Mantracker.

    $25000 prize? What a bunch of pussies! Try “No official prize, but for the rest of your natural life, at any rural dive in Canuckistan, the first beer is always free.”

  19. Lu-Tze says:

    When you said live action video game I had flashbacks of Craig Charles shouting “AWOOOOGA!”

  20. Jubaal says:

    I can’t even bring myself to click on their website, it just looks too awful. I’m cringing just thinking about it.

  21. Hermit says:

    Timecommanders had the right idea when it came to TV shows based on videogames. Heck, there’s got to be something in a TV show where 4 complete novices are plugged in to Left 4 Dead on Expert Mode. Anyone who escapes wins a share of the prize money, so expect last second backstabbing for added laughs.

    Also, Knightmare is epic.

  22. Max says:

    This sounds hilarious. I can see them coming up with the original idea and it becoming more and more obviously infeasible as they try to flesh out the details. Then the producer says “Fuck it! Just make the show!”.

    I love that the camera crews follow the hunted around.

  23. Primar says:

    I personally love the way their website’s loading bar goes all the way up to 133%. Also, having to reload every time I click a link makes me confused.

    On the topic of gameshows that had a cool concept, then failed horribly because you can’t DO things like that in real life; does anybody remember Xfire? Was some weird cross between paintball/airsoft and Counterstrike, and always seemed really awesome.

    Until you actually watched it, and realised just how silly the whole thing looked on TV. :(

    Also: The Crystal Maze, but that was just generally great, so you can’t knock that.

  24. Jetsetlemming says:

    This is the best thing.

  25. Jubaal says:

    Don’t forget the BBC Classic “The Adventure Game”. Ah fond memories of Uncle Aspidistra the grumpy plant.

    Hbwabrahbuwah

  26. Yhancik says:

    Hunter Grant looks like a character from Deus Ex :p

  27. manintheshack says:

    I’m voting for Grant when the Deus Ex film begins casting… The Deus Ex Factor anyone?

    (I’m so sorry)

  28. manintheshack says:

    @Yhancik: Holy crap, man. We must have joined minds across the ether or something.

  29. John Walker says:

    Doogy rev. (Gronda gronda).

  30. Ginger Yellow says:

    Non-US viewers can presumably watch it using a proxy. I use one for Hulu and similar services.

    Knightmare was awesome. It was basically the Crystal Maze for videogame loving kids, and the contestants were usually just as earnest and moronic.

    Reminds me of the latest Screenwipe, which had a segment on Paul Ross’ Big Black Book of Horror. Basically, really cheap television is always just a context-shift away from hilarity.

    That was a classic, wasn’t it? I particularly like the way he was so obviously not reading from the book. Why bother having it all? Couldn’t they have printed it out and stuck the pages to the book so he could switch seemlessly from book to autocue? No, that would have cost at least £5.

    OT for the RPS crew: I see Mosby’s Confederacy is out. Any chance of a review/impressions?

  31. Jubaal says:

    Very good Mr Walker. It’ssssss the Dronga Game.

  32. Dr. 1006 says:

    Awesome! Sadly I don’t have enough time to watch it. Sadface.

    As for the Deus Ex film: Icey for the role of Anna Navarre.

  33. manintheshack says:

    What was that one that Craig Charles used to host? Where it was all done in crudely realised ‘virtual reality’.

    Ah, here it is: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=OkzF56tGYSg

    CyberZone. I remember this so vaguely I almost assumed it was my imagination, but it did actually happen…

  34. James T says:

    Night Tra–

    [a wall gradually, gradually revolves behind James (who is having a pillowfight with his monitor), revealing a dry-ice-filled recess from whence emerges a man with a black stocking over his head; he unconvincingly attacks James with a drill, and tabloid TV programs are whirled into a totally non-confected frenzy.]

  35. Joe says:

    They tried this before, for real, with a game called Majestic. And, you kow, that worked…

  36. Unaccountable Interloper says:

    Majestic wasn’t like this at all. Not even a little.

  37. Ergates says:

    Isn’t this, essentially, a game of tig. On television.

  38. Thingus says:

    From the article, it looks like televised LARP.

  39. Yhancik says:

    @manintheshack : HIVEMIND !

  40. solomun says:

    Maybe they forgot about Knightmare, but just a couple of days ago I watched a live-action version of FIFA so it’s not like people haven’t taken the idea and run with it.
    That was pretty stupid too though, it went on way longer than it’s supposed to and when one team was ahead they didn’t do the traditional back pass to the keeper to have him try and dribble the ball into the opponents’ goal.

  41. Christian says:

    Not nessarcarily a “video-game” show, but when I saw a link to that X-fire vid, I though I should give combat missions a mention.
    The best part is the fact that it’s actual special forces competing.

  42. cassus says:

    Just gotta say this. It’s this kind of crap that’s going to ruin the Sci-Fi channel. First they cancel stargate SG1, then they cancel Stargate Atlantis and make a new stargate called Stargate Galaxy i think it is, that starts up in january 2009.. They’ve been ditching good shows for a while now, and making crappy TV movies that no one cares about (except the stargate dvd movies, keep that up).

    Science fiction was in a bad place as it was before Sci-Fi decided they were going to make lousy reality shows. What the hell is scifi about this rubbish anyways? Reality show… That would be the exact oposite of fiction i would believe.. And the science behind these reality shows are usually based around reverse darwinism. The weak reign supreme in these damn shows.

    Yeah.. off_Rant

  43. Deadpan says:

    Coming Soon!
    Scifi / G4tv!

  44. Miles says:

    “I’ll leave that to you below”

    FIGHTBOX! God was that ever shitmazing.

  45. Alex Bakke says:

    I remember Xfire. It was awesome, although I watched it when I was about 7. I wouldn’t mind playing this game, just to see how well I could fare.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>